Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Rare 1745 portrait donated to Colonial Williamsburg

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The descendants of Joyce Armistead Booth have donated an extremely rare surviving portrait of their ancestor painted by 18th century artist William Dering to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Only six of Dering’s portraits are known to have survived — including one of Joyce’s son George — and with the latest donation the Colonial Willamsburg foundation is now the proud owner of five of the six.

Only one of the portraits attributed to William Dering is signed. Experts use it as the standard to determine attribution of other works that crop up. The painting of Joyce Armistead Booth has been in the family since it was painted. It is in excellent condition and is still in its original frame. This is an inestimable resource for art historical research into Dering’s oeuvre.

“Executed in saturated, well-preserved reds, blues, and golds, and measuring more than four feet in height, this likeness of Joyce Armistead Booth is visually arresting,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the foundation’s Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator and vice president for collections, conservation and museums. “The portrait commands the viewer’s attention, and in so doing, provides a window into the goals and aspirations of early Virginia’s planter aristocracy.”

This Dering portrait is significant to ongoing research that Colonial Williamsburg’s experts are undertaking. Laura Barry, Juli Grainger curator of paintings, drawings and sculpture, and Shelley Svoboda, senior conservator of paintings, are at work on a comprehensive study of the artist and his work from both historical and technical perspectives. The portrait of Joyce Armistead Booth, especially due to its pristine condition, informs this research and will help the experts to better understand the nuances in Dering’s other canvases.

William Dering was a Williamsburg dancing master and portrait painter who navigated the upper echelons of Virginia society in the first half of the 18th century. The first record of him in the American colonies is in an advertisement for his dancing school in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1735. In an notice in the same periodical a year later, he was offering a significantly wider array of teaching services, to wit “Reading, Writing, Dancing, Plain Work, Marking, Embroidery, and several other Works: where Likewise young Ladies and Gentlemen may be instructed in the French.”

He and his wife Sarah moved to Virginia and by November of 1737 he was in Williamsburg. An advertisement in the Virginia Gazette of November 25th announced that Dering had “opened his School at the College, where all Gentlemen’s Sons may be taught Dancing, according to the newest French Manner….” He appealed solely to the sons of gentlemen because his classes were held at the College of William of Mary which was then men-only.

What we know of Dering’s social life is the result of his friendship with the socially prominent statesman, planter and founder of Richmond, Virginia, Colonel William Byrd who kept extensive diaries recording his daily life. Dering was a regular visitor to his estate, Westover Plantation. One night on June 6th, 1740, Byrd noted Dering had joined him for dinner of bacon and greens followed by talking, a game of bowls and a walk. They shared many such pleasant evenings. Dering played the French horn during one of them.

Legal records paint a less carefree picture. Dering struggled to pay off multiple mortgages on his house next to the Governor’s Mansion on the Palace Green, a rather high-end address for a dancing teacher, and he was involved in other lawsuits with creditors. It seems he lived consistently beyond his means and his home had to be auctioned after his death in early 1751. It is still standing today and is preserved and administrated by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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Monumental Tiepolo back on display after 4-year restoration

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Bacchus and Ariadne (1743/1745), a monumental oil-on-canvas painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, is back on display at Washington’s National Gallery of Art after a four-year conservation. The painting is believed to be part of a series of mythological scenes representing the four elements: earth, water, air and fire, only three of which are known to survive today. Bacchus and Ariadne represented earth.

We know from a letter Tieopolo wrote in 1764 that he painted the series to adorn a Venice palace. We don’t know which palace as the only reference in the letter to the owner are the initials “V.E.” Bacchus and Ariadne only decorated V.E.’s palace for 60 years or so before it was bought by a collector and moved out of Venice for good. The meticulous restoration has revealed long-lost original details that were painted over when the work was first moved at the end of the 18th century or lost as the condition deteriorated over time.

The project’s painting conservator, Sarah Gowen Murray, worked closely with colleagues in painting conservation, scientific research, and preventive conservation to treat the painting and conduct analysis of the work. Overpaint removal uncovered tall vertical leaves on the left and right sides of the composition. Infrared imaging—conducted by John Delaney, senior imaging scientist—and analysis of cross-section samples of those areas—examined and interpreted by Barbara Berrie, head of the scientific research department—indicated that the leaves were originally bound together by gold ribbons. A precedent for the ribbons was established in another work by Tiepolo, Castigo dei Serpenti (The Scourge of the Snakes) (1732–1735) at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. These findings, archived documentation images, and other works by the artist were then consulted to reconstruct the missing elements with inpainting.

Other discoveries made during the treatment include indications of significant compositional changes made by Tiepolo, suggesting that Bacchus and Ariadne may have been the first painting of the series. X-radiographs exposed curved forms at the lower-right corner extending beneath the griffin and the jaguar—perhaps initial attempts by the artist to incorporate the composition into the work’s surrounding architecture.

One characteristic feature of Tieopolo’s mature works that has been brought back to life with this restoration is the coolness of his color palette. This set him apart from other Venetian painters of his period and allowed his frescoes and large-scale paintings like this one to convey a realistic sense of daylight. The illumination effect would have been a particularly desirable feature in monumental works intended to decorate the walls of large palaces. Bacchus and Ariadne, for example, were commissioned to hang over a staircase.

X-rays have found that there was a ledge painted along the bottom edge with griffin-like creatures at each end of the ledge. A cornice framed the top of the painting as well, curving down. The right side had a column with a vine of acanthus leaves wrapped around it. These architectural features are thought to have been created to match the location where the painting was originally located. They were painted over, likely after the work was acquired by the Artaria family who hung it in their Como estate. Inventory records note its presence there in 1798. The ledge, columns and griffins were painted out and a figure of Rhea was added to the lower left of the composition. The conservation restored the architectural elements, doubtless much to the relief of the putto on the top left who now has his perch back instead of floating unmoored.

The X-rays also found a great deal of damage to the canvas itself — tears, holes — and areas of inpainting and overpainting from later interventions that were not well done to begin with and had discolored and flaked over the years. The varnish was even worse. Darkened and discolored, the varnish layers had mutated the cool daylight palette of the original to a bilious jaundice. A full relining of the canvas and careful thinning of the varnish layers performed in 1960 was unable to solve the problem, but conservation technology has changed enormously over the past 60 years. The recent treatment has brought back Tieopolo’s light blue sky.

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Westminster Abbey gallery open after 700 years

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Seven hundred years after it was built, Westminster Abbey’s eastern triforium has opened to the public for the first time. Soaring 52 feet above the Abbey floor, the gallery provides a one-of-a-kind view of the cruciform architecture of nave and apse, the Great West Door, the shrine of Edward the Confessor, and my personal obsession, the Cosmati Pavement in front of the Grand Altar whose intricate geometry is best appreciated from above.

It’s not just a great viewing perch. The triforium has been transformed into the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, a fitting exhibition space for 300 objects from the Abbey’s collection. It is divided into four sections with their own themes: construction of the Abbey, worship and daily life, relationship with the monarchy and the church’s pivotal role in preserving the national memory.

Artifacts on display include the Litlyngton Missal, an illuminated Latin manuscript that is one of the largest medieval manuscripts known, the Liber Regalis, the 14th century guide to coronations and royal funerals that remains to this day the basis of those ceremonies, the Westminster Retable, the oldest altarpiece in England that is believed to have originally adorned the Westminster Abbey of Henry III’s day. There is also a remarkable collection of royal funeral effigies, 21 of them dating from the 14th through the 17th centuries.

Among them are Mary I and Edward III (who had eyebrows made of dog hair, sadly missing today) and Catherine de Valois, wife of Henry V, slender in her flowing red robe. These would have been placed on the coffin for the funeral procession, bewigged, fully dressed in robes of state and carrying the orb and sceptre. For this reason, they are jointed, like life-size dolls.

Then there are the personal details: for example, the painted head of Henry VII, probably by the Florentine sculptor Pietro Torrigiano, may be a death mask because his mouth is slightly twisted – he died from a stroke. Just nearby is the long, tightly-laced corset worn by the effigy of his grand-daughter Elizabeth I, which would have been topped off with a ruff and a crown.

On Friday, June 8th, the Queen and Prince of Wales officially opened the new galleries and came face-to-effigy with their predecessors. They opened to the public on Monday. The space is small and the number of visitors allowed is limited, so tickets (which must be bought in addition to the general Abbey admission ticket) are timed in 15-minute intervals.

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Branwell Brontë’s portrait of his sisters goes home

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

The only known surviving portrait taken from life of sibling literary luminaries Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë has gone home. Part of the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London, the painting is on display at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth for the first time since 1984 to take part in an exhibition honoring the bicentenary of Emily’s birthday (July 30th, 1818). Emily, author of Wuthering Heights, was the fifth of six children, born between brother Patrick Branwell and youngest sister Anne. This is the only undisputed portrait of Emily (experts disagree about whether another painting by Branwell is of Emily or Anne).

It was painted by Branwell Brontë around 1834 at the Haworth parsonage, the family’s home on the Yorkshire moors for many isolated years of their childhood. That parsonage is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum. It usually has to make do with a copy of the famous group portrait, but the original work is now being exhibited in the place where it was painted in Emily’s honor. The honor is a transitory one, however. The painting will only be on view at the parsonage through August 31st.

The work has quite the checkered history. Branwell originally included a self-portrait in the group between Emily and Charlotte, but for unknown reasons he painted himself out, covering his likeness with a weirdly random green ectoplasmic pillar. Because of that odd feature, the painting is known as the Pillar Portrait.

Patrick died in September 1848, followed less than two months later by Emily. Anne died five months after her sister in May of 1849. Charlotte was the last survivor of the Brontë siblings.

Her friend and biographer, novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (author of Cranford and North and South, among others) saw the portrait when she visited Charlotte at Haworth in 1853. She described it in less than glowing terms in her bestselling biography of the author, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, published in 1857:

I have seen an oil painting of [Branwell’s], done I know not when, but probably about this time [1835]. It was a group of his sisters, life-size, three-quarters’ length; not much better than sign-painting, as to manipulation; but the likenesses were, I should think, admirable. I could only judge of the fidelity with which the other two were depicted, from the striking resemblance which Charlotte, upholding the great frame of canvas, and consequently standing right behind it, bore to her own representation, though it must have been ten years and more since the portraits were taken. The picture was divided, almost in the middle, by a great pillar. On the side of the column which was lighted by the sun, stood Charlotte, in the womanly dress of that day of gigot sleeves and large collars. On the deeply shadowed side, was Emily, with Anne’s gentle face resting on her shoulder. Emily’s countenance struck me as full of power; Charlotte’s of solicitude; Anne’s of tenderness. The two younger seemed hardly to have attained their full growth, though Emily was taller than Charlotte; they had cropped hair, and a more girlish dress. I remember looking on those two sad, earnest, shadowed faces, and wondering whether I could trace the mysterious expression which is said to foretell an early death. I had some fond superstitious hope that the column divided their fates from hers, who stood apart in the canvas, as in life she survived. I liked to see that the bright side of the pillar was towards her — that the light in the picture fell on her: I might more truly have sought in her presentment — nay, in her living face — for the sign of death — in her prime. They were good likenesses, however badly executed.

Charlotte lived at Haworth until her tragically premature death in 1855. She had married her father’s curate Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1854 and became pregnant shortly thereafter. She and her unborn child died nine months after the wedding. Charlotte was just shy of her 39th birthday.

Nicholls stayed on as Patrick Brontë’s curate until the latter’s death in 1861, then he moved back to his hometown of Banagher, Ireland. He sold the contents of Haworth but kept manuscripts, ephemera and personal effects, including the group painting even though he apparently hated it. He put it on top of an upstairs cupboard and let people believe it was lost for decades.

It was rediscovered in 1913, seven years after Nicholls’ death, by his second wife and cousin, Mary. By then it was out of its frame, off its stretcher and folded in four. The widow told her niece that Nicholls “disliked them very much. He thought they were very ugly representations of the girls, and I think meant to destroy them, but perhaps shrank from doing so — you see, there is only one other existing portrait of Charlotte, and none at all of Emily and Anne.”

That last bit isn’t true. There was actually a portrait by Branwell of Emily or Anne, (scholars disagree) found on top of the same cupboard as the Pillar Portrait. It was cut out of a group portrait, the rest of which has been lost.

Mary Nicholls sold the group portrait in 1914 to the National Portrait Gallery. Most of the rest of the manuscripts and Brontë memorabilia she sold after her husband’s death or that was sold after her death in 1916 are now part of the Brontë Parsonage Museum collection.

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CT of hawk mummy finds it’s a stillborn baby

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

A small wrapped mummy believed to be a hawk in the Egyptian collection of the Maidstone Museum in Kent, England, has been revealed to instead contain the complete remains of a severely deformed stillborn baby or late-term fetus. The mummy was labelled “EA 493 – Mummified Hawk Ptolemaic Period,” a conclusion drawn from its cartonnage outer wrapping which was painted to look like a bird. Its shape and size was comparable to other hawks and the birds held great religious symbolism in traditional Egyptian polytheism so were mummified in large numbers.

It was first CT scanned in 2016 when the Museum received a grant to create a new display space for its Egyptian and Greek artifacts. The star of the museum’s Egyptian collection, the mummy of Ta-Kush, the only adult human mummy in Kent, would take pride of place in the new gallery, so the museum undertook to examine Ta-Kush in greater detail, working with the Kent Institute of Medicine and Science to CT scan the mummy and with FaceLab at Liverpool John Moores University to create a facial reconstruction based on the scan.

All 30 of the mummies in the collection were also CT scanned, including the ostensible hawk. That first scan revealed that it was no hawk at all, but rather a tiny, probably fetal, human. The clinical CT scanner could not capture the remains in sufficient detail for a thorough examination because of their minute size. The museum contacted mummy expert Andrew Nelson of Western University in Ontario, and he arranged with
Nikon Metrology (UK) to conduct a micro-CT scan at a resolution 10 times higher than the clinical CT scan.

The scans produced are some of the highest-resolution images of a mummy ever taken, and by far the highest-resolution images of a mummified fetus. Nelson and a multi-disciplinary international team of experts analyzed the scans. They found that the mummy was a stillborn male at 23 to 28 weeks gestation who was severely anencephalic, a malformation in which the fetus’ skull and brain never develop properly.

The images show well-formed toes and fingers but a skull with severe malformations, says Nelson, a bioarchaeologist and professor of anthropology at Western. “The whole top part of his skull isn’t formed. The arches of the vertebrae of his spine haven’t closed. His earbones are at the back of his head.”

There are no bones to shape the broad roof and sides of the skull, where the brain would ordinarily grow. “In this individual, this part of the vault never formed and there probably was no real brain,” Nelson says.

That makes it one of just two anencephalic mummies known to exist (the other was described in 1826), and by far the most-studied fetal mummy in history. […]

The research provides important clues to the maternal diet – anencephaly can result from lack of folic acid, found in green vegetables – and raises new questions about whether mummification in this case took place because fetuses were believed to have some power as talismans, Nelson says.

“It would have been a tragic moment for the family to lose their infant and to give birth to a very strange-looking fetus, not a normal-looking fetus at all. So this was a very special individual,” Nelson says.

There are only nine mummies of human fetuses known to exist and this is the only anencephalic one to have been scientifically studied. It is a unique find and of great archaeological significance, much more so than the mummy of Ta-Kush which launched the project. It wasn’t going to go on display in the new gallery; it will be an important part of it now.

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Hamilton-Burr dueling pistols on rare public display

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

The original pistols used by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in the 1804 duel that claimed the life of the first Treasury Secretary are temporarily on display at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The long-barreled Wogdon & Barton pistols used in the infamous duel are privately owned and very rarely exhibited. They have never been exhibited in Washington, D.C. before.

These pistols didn’t belong to Hamilton or Burr. They were owned by John Barker Church, husband of Angelica Schuyler Church, sister of Alexander Hamilton’s wife Eliza. After their most infamous starring turn, the pistols were kept in the Church family at Belvidere, the Federal-style mansion built by John Barker in southeastern New York state.

They were sold in the 1930s to Manhattan Bank which, in a poetic coincidence, had been founded by Aaron Burr in 1799 to compete with Hamilton’s Bank of New York. Two decades later the Bank of Manhattan merged with Chase National Bank to form Chase Manhattan and eventually it would be bought by JPMorgan Chase. The most notorious of all dueling pistols are now the property of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and they can be seen, should you have high finance to transact, on the 8th floor of JPMorgan’s global headquarters at 270 Park Avenue, formerly the Union Carbide tower (soon to be demolished, just by the by).

NB: Burr would later claim that the pistols were his, but witness testimony and the rules of the code duello make that extremely unlikely. As the challenged party, Hamilton had choice of weapons and location, and from the comments made to people by his deathbed over the course of the day it took him to die from the gut shot Burr had delivered, he knew the pistols well. He had a tragic personal reason for this beyond the fact of them being his brother-in-law’s. The pistols were the ones used in the 1801 duel between Alexander Hamilton’s son Philip and George Eacker. Philip was killed on the same dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey, where Hamilton would take that fatal shot three years later.

Alexander Hamilton: Soldier, Secretary, Icon, the exhibition that features the pistols, examines the life and enduring legacy of the man through original artifacts as well as iconographic depictions after his death. It’s at the National Postal Museum, so as you might expect, the pistols and portraits are displayed alongside correspondence and postage stamps as well as revenue stamps. The exhibition opened May 25th and runs through March of 2019, but the pistols will only be on display until June 24th.

Anybody who isn’t likely to have a chance to hang out at JPMorgan global headquarters needs to get to DC with a quickness to see the dueling pistols. You can make a Hamilton-themed event out of it as the Broadway smash hit Hamilton: An American Musical, debuts at the Kennedy Center in June.


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Hawaiian carved god donated to museum

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

A carved wooden ki’i (a temple image figure) depicting the god Ku has been donated to Honolulu’s Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum and is now home after at least 80 years of exile. Its past is obscure. The known ownership history starts in the 1940s when it was bought by Pierre Vérité who passed it down to his son, Paris art dealer Claude Vérité.

The Vérité collection was auctioned at Christie’s Paris in November 2017 with the ki’i as the signature piece gracing the cover of the catalogue. It was purchased at the auction by Marc Benioff, the Chairman and CEO of Salesforce, and his wife Lynne for $7.5 million. They donated it to the Bishop Museum “for the education and benefit of [Hawaii’s] people.”

Hawaii has a profound spiritual and historical connection to this figure and its brethren. The ki’i is 20 inches tall and depicted in warrior pose — knees bent, calves flexed, hands clenched at the back of the thighs. The mouth is open in a grimace shaped like a figure eight, teeth bared and jaw jutting forward. He wears a head crest hanging down at the sides towards his shoulders. These are the classic elements characteristic the Kona style of carving, created by artists in the Kona area of the Big Island during the reign of King Kamehameha I (1782-1819).

The first king of Hawaii as we know it today, Kamehameha unified the islands, previously ruled by different chiefs constantly at war with each other. Before he became king, he served at the royal court of the island of Hawaii under his uncle and then his cousin, under whom he was appointed guardian of Ku, (Ku-ka’ili-moku in Hawaiian, meaning “the god Ku, the island snatcher”) the Hawaiian god of war.

He would maintain a strong identification with this deity as he conquered the fractious islands and fought his way to the throne. Once he was king, Ku temple figures exploded in popularity. These were sacred effigies, representing both the deity and the king, and the carvers were themselves considered to be performing a religious role rather than a purely artistic one.

Christie’s experts were amazed by the quality of the piece. It is the kind of thing found only in museums nowadays, so they were thrilled to discover one in a private collection. According to the auction house’s Head of African and Oceanic Art Susan Kloman, it is comparable in craftsmanship and cultural significance to this exceptional ki’i of Ku in the British Museum, except the one in the BM is five times taller (105 inches in height) and is missing his hands. On, and we know how it got there. Missionaries brought it back from their voyage to Kona in 1822.

The auction house took a minute sample from the statue to radiocarbon date it and to find out which wood it is made of. It’s wood from the genus Metrosideros, or ohi’a wood, a tree found in the mountains of Hawaii and Oceania. The dating results weren’t very precise as they are “wiggles” in the conversion tables from this period, but the two most likely ranges are 1798-1891 and 1717-1780. The stylistic evidence makes the early part of the 1798 range most likely. The Bishop will continue to study the piece and run additional tests in the hopes of discovery a more accurate date.

The image will be a centerpiece in a new exhibition at Bishop Museum opening in February 2019, following the close of the Hawaiian season of peace known as Makahiki. Museum researchers will continue to study the carving while planning for the exhibition, which will explore the multiplicity of stories surrounding the ki’i. In addition, the Museum plans to hold a carving workshop and symposium prior to the exhibition, during which contemporary artists, scholars and the community will engage with the ki’I and other images in the Museum’s collections to increase awareness, scholarship and understanding of Native Hawaiian history, culture and practices.

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Rare Roman sarcophagus goes on display

Friday, May 25th, 2018

The Roman sarcophagus unearthed last year at Harper Road in Southwark, central London, has gone on display at the Museum of London Docklands. It is part of a new exhibition dedicated to how Romans in ancient Londinium dealt with their dead. The sarcophagus will keep company with the remains, inhumed and cremated, of 28 Roman-era Londoners discovered in ancient cemeteries and more than 200 grave goods.

Only two other Roman sarcophagi have been found in situ in London, so this discovery gave researchers a rare opportunity to study a high end Roman burial in its context. The lid was pushed off to the side and the sarcophagus was filled with soil. Archaeologists believe it was looted in the 17th century, likely after it was discovered accidentally during construction work. The bones were crudely pushed over to one side of the coffin and one of her arms was thrown out of the coffin, perhaps to strip it of jewelry.

Filled with heavy clay, the sarcophagus weighed a ton and a half. It was carefully raised and moved to the Museum of London to be excavated in laboratory conditions. Archaeologists knew its valuables had been removed by the tomb robbers, but metal detectors did register the presence of something metallic. That proved to be a single flake of gold, thought to be part of an earring, and a jasper cameo that the robbers had missed.

Some spectacular funerary artifacts will be showcased in the exhibition, including a Roman face pot used as a cinerary urn, a jet pendant carved with the face of Medusa and a gold ring with an engraved gemstone depicting two mice eating together, likely the country mouse and city mouse from Horace’s Satires. The most valuable in monetary terms may be a millefiori glass dish that was found with cremated remains in Roman London’s eastern cemetery in 2009. The remains had been interred in a wooden container with the dish. It’s in exceptional condition and a very rare object in Roman London or the western Empire as a whole. It would have cost many times a soldier’s yearly salary when it was new.

There are a number of events scheduled in connection with the exhibition. This weekend a workshop will be held exploring the historical context of the Southwark sarcophagus and giving guests the opportunity to make their own mini sarcophagus. It won’t be carved out of stone, though, so harumph.

The Close to the Bone workshop held this June, on the hand, sets my nerdy little heart to pounding.

Immerse yourself in this hands-on workshop where you will learn different ways and techniques of identifying biological profiles of individual skeletons, as well as exploring unique details inside the Roman Dead exhibition with our exhibition trail. Explore 2D and 3D facial reconstruction techniques with the guidance and knowledge of professionals from Sherlock Bone.

You’ll also learn all about the work, processes and ethics behind the Museum of London’s Centre of Human Bioarchaeology, which was established in 2003 to curate and research the human remains excavated in the City and the Greater London area. With over 20,000 pieces of human remains in the museum’s collection, our Curator of Human Osteology, Dr. Rebecca Redfern, will share studies and insights resulting from this unique and captivating collection with you.

The Roman Dead exhibition runs from May 25th through October 28th. There is a minimum age — visitors must be at least eight years old — and admission is free.

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Anne of Brittany’s heart stolen, found

Friday, May 4th, 2018

On the night of Friday, April 13th, thieves broke in through a window of the Musée Dobrée in Nantes, western France, and stole the gold reliquary made to contain the heart of one of my favorite historic personages, Anne of Brittany. The alarm did sound, but it was insufficient to stop the thieves.

The only woman ever to be queen of France two separate times (both entirely against her will), Anne struggled her whole life to keep Brittany independent and after her sadly premature death in 1514 at the age of 37 was a revered symbol of Brittany’s unique history and culture. The reliquary that contained her heart was created shortly after her death and is inscribed “In this little vessel of fine gold, pure and clean, rests a heart greater than any lady in the world ever had. Anne was her name, twice queen in France, Duchess of the Bretons, royal and sovereign.”

That dedication may have been part of the attraction for the thieves who may have been hoping to make big bucks by melting it, but the 6-inch reliquary and its lovely crown of nine fleurs-de-lis together total only 100 grams of gold. This is not the first time the gold reliquary and crown had a brush with the crucible. It was confiscated during the French Revolution and Anne’s heart thrown in the trash, a fate suffered by so many royal remains. The container was ordered melted down, but the order was never followed and the reliquary was kept intact in the Bibliothèque Nationale until 1819 when it was returned to Nantes. It has been part of the collection of the Musée Dobrée since the 1880s.

There were murmurs that Breton nationalists might have been behind the theft, but the authorities thought it more likely to have been the work of petty thieves. Councilors of the Loire-Atlantique department accordingly appealed in the press for the return of the precious artifact, pointing out that it has far more historical value than monetary.

A week later, Nantes police found the reliquary, a figurine and some gold coins, all stolen from the museum, at an undisclosed location near the museum.

Two men in their early twenties have been arrested and charged with “association with criminals” and “theft of cultural assets”. One is known to authorities. They both deny involvement. Two other suspects are at large.

According to Pierre Sennes, the Nantes prosecutor, the prized gold case “seems to be in good shape”.

The museum reopened to visitors last week, sans reliquary for the time being, but on Wednesday, May 2nd, the government of the Loire-Atlantique department announced that the Voyage in the Collections exhibition would be closed permanently because of the thefts and the damage inflicted on the display. It was supposed to run through September 30th.

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One of the earliest Persian garden carpets in the world to go on display in the US for the first time

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

One of the greatest Persian carpets in the world is traveling from Glasgow to the United States for the first time to go on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Wagner Garden Carpet was made in Kirman, modern-day southeastern Iran, in the 17th century. It one of the three earliest Persian garden carpets known in the world (the other two are at the Albert Hall in Jaipur, India, and the Museum of Industrial Art in Vienna, Austria) but its design is unique. There are no other carpets known that use its base pattern in whole or in part.

Its four-quartered garden layout is inspired by the Safavid royal gardens and the concept of the earthly paradise described in the Quran. In the middle is a basin where the channels that divide the garden meet. All along the H-shaped channels trees, plants and shrubs flower and animals — birds, butterflies, goats, rabbits, lions, gazelles, peacocks, leopards — roam amidst their lushness. Fish and waterfowl frolic in the canals.

It was named after its German owner who acquired it at the turn of the century. Sir William Burrell bought it in 1939 from the Royal Bank of Scotland. He displayed it in his drawing room at Hutton Castle in Northumberland, but only owned it for five years before donating it to the City of Glasgow.

It is huge, more than 17 feet long and 14 feet wide. The warps are all cotton; the wefts wool, cotton and silk; the pile wool. Because of its massive size and the delicate condition of its textiles, it has only been on display twice in the past three decades, and has never been seen outside the UK since the Burrell purchase in 1939. It is traveling now only because the Burrell Collection closed for an extensive £66 million refurbishment in October 2016 and doesn’t reopen until late 2020.

Dr Frances Fowle, Burrell Trustees chairman, said: “The Burrell Trustees are delighted to support the loan of one of the world’s most spectacular and important carpets to one of the world’s greatest museums.

“The loan will raise international awareness of the significance of Sir William Burrell’s collection while the museum undergoes much-needed refurbishment.” […]

While on display in New York the artwork will accompanied by a supporting display relating to the importance of gardens in Islamic culture and a full public programme including a symposium and a guest lecture by Noorah al Gailani, curator of Islamic Civilisations at Glasgow Museums and the Burrell Collection.

It will be exhibited at the Met’s Islamic Galleries from July 10th through October 7th, 2018.

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